Australia and England prepare to face off in the third Ashes Test of 2013-14, with England desperately hoping to overturn the home side's emphatic 2-0 series lead.
Venue: WACA Ground, Perth
Commences: Friday, Dec. 13, 2013
Start time: 2:30 a.m. GMT (10:30 a.m. local)
Live on: Sky Sports 2
Weather: The Weather Channel is forecasting very hot conditions for the first four days of the match, with consistent top temperatures of 36 degrees Celsius, before a slightly cooler afternoon on the final day of the Test.
It's hard to imagine two sides arriving at the WACA ground in such contrasting form.
Australia come into this match bubbling with confidence, following consecutive humiliations of their guests in Brisbane and Adelaide. With Michael Clarke in scintillating touch with the bat and Mitchell Johnson in the most breathtaking form possible with the ball, the home side have rocked an unsuspecting England to their core.
That England side must now find a way to halt Australia's momentum in Perth—a venue where the hosts have lost just once in Ashes history.
The most pressing matter for the visiting party is the team's brittle batting lineup, which has failed to pass 200 in three of the four innings completed thus far.
Alastair Cook appears out of sorts at the top of the innings. Much the same can be said for Kevin Pietersen. With the lower-order being repeatedly blown away by Johnson, Ian Bell and Michael Carberry have been left to play the lone hands for a battle-weary England outfit.
With Australia already having one hand on the Urn at 2-0 up in this five-match encounter, England must win this Test if they is any chance of retaining cricket's most time-honoured trophy.
Australia: Michael Clarke (c), George Bailey, James Faulkner, Brad Haddin (wk), Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, David Warner, Shane Watson
England: Alastair Cook (c), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad, Michael Carberry, Steven Finn, Monty Panesar, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior (wk), Boyd Rankin, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett
Australia: If England thought they had already dealt with the best of Mitchell Johnson, they're wrong. As broken down here, the left-armer's record in Perth is simply phenomenal. In fact, the WACA ground is the home of Johnson's finest performances in the Test arena.
The blistering speedster has claimed 36 wickets from just five matches at this venue, at an average of 19.66. Arriving in Perth in the most stupendous form imaginable, it seems almost inevitable that Johnson will tear through England once more, which could set up an alarmingly quick series victory for Australia.
England: Alastair Cook is the man that must fire if England are any chance of avoiding a third successive hammering at the hands of Australia.
The captain's frailties at the top of the order in 2013 have been incredibly damaging to his side's batting efforts, with Australia's bowlers regularly finding themselves amongst the middle-order in quick fashion.
For England to compile the large first-innings total they need, Cook must find a way to overcome his poor run of form and register the visitors' first hundred of the series.
Mitchell Johnson vs. Every England Batsman: It should go without saying that England's ability to repel Johnson's threat in Perth will undoubtedly determine the fate of this Test match.
The equation is simple. If the left-armer continues his current form, England can wave goodbye to the trophy they've won on three consecutive occasions.
However, if the team's batsmen can find a way to quell the devastating Johnson and cash in on a fast Perth outfield, then a large first-innings total might become achievable.
Michael Clarke vs. Stuart Broad: If anyone is going to put a halt to the Australian captain's form with the bat, it's Stuart Broad on a lively Perth wicket.
Adelaide simply didn't present conditions suitable for testing out Clarke's weakness against the short ball; something the surface at the WACA ground will certainly aid.
With Clarke being the man that every Australian innings is founded upon, claiming the skipper early could be England's ticket back into this series.
Possible Selection Changes
Australia: The home side have a small dilemma with regard to their bowling stocks ahead of this Test.
Ryan Harris is battling to be fit for the match in Perth, struggling with an minor, ongoing knee injury. Despite bowling impressively in the nets, Australia's team management will be cautious with the injury-prone speedster.
However, James Faulkner—who has been 12th man in both Tests of the series—suffered a broken hand while batting in the nets ahead of this match, ruling the all-rounder out of this Test, and possibly the series.
Consequently, Doug Bollinger or the upcapped Nathan Coulter-Nile could come into the side, with both being on standby if Harris fails to prove his fitness for the third Test.
England: The visitors will undoubtedly make changes to their lineup, as they search for a combination that is capable of reversing the team's current fortunes.
Monty Panesar will make way for a fast bowler, with Steven Finn the most likely man to come into an England attack lacking sheer pace.
The selectors' other dilemma will be Ben Stokes. The debutant was the quickest of England's bowlers in Adelaide, but his mediocre first-class record with the bat means the side's middle-order looked rather fragile with Stokes at No. 6.
Consequently, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance could come into the team to bolster a batting unit desperately in need of runs.
It's hard to shake the feeling that this England team simply can't muster the energy to overcome the onslaught from this rejuvenated Australian outfit.
After an extended spell at—or close to—the top of the game, England look like an ambushed team running on empty. The physical and mental toll of sustained excellence appears to be taking its effect on Alastair Cook and his men.
Australia, of course, won't be ready to ease up on their visitors, with their obvious hunger to reclaim the Urn driving a relentlessly vicious approach from Michael Clarke's side.
With the team's core of Clarke, Johnson and Brad Haddin at the top of their games, Australia should complete a comfortable victory in Perth to reclaim the Ashes for the first time since 2006-07.